Monday, April 12, 2010

The Simple Home-My 1918 Bungalow

One of the things I liked the most about this house aside from a sensible floorplan was the size and shape of the kitchen and that it would be large enough to accommodate a table without being crowded.  There were some weird things about it that I thought could be better-like a sink installed in front of and overlapping a window (I've always hated that).  That there was little counter space next to the sink and stove wasn't the most functional set-up but given that I don't cook, it wasn't an urgent need.  In the long run, it would need a redesign, but for me, it wasn't high priority.  Since my interests were in the other rooms of the house, a simple facelift would suffice for the next several years.  One thing that was high on my list was taming the high intensity green and white combo.

One of the things I liked was the full wall of cabinets and countertop with a desk area across the room from the work area.  I spent a lot of time in this room engaged in decorating work for clients and the cabinets, countertop, and table close by all provided ample workspaces where I could drag out all the samples I needed from the cabinets that held the supplies and all of this within steps from the most important thing-the coffee pot.

My second and third homes were more modern homes and had been furnished in more modern styles.  While the table and chairs were nice in my last house, they looked a little like cheap hotel furniture in this one.  I liked the style, but knew for this home-that I planned to keep forever-I'd like to see something that blended with the style of the house a little better.  I'd have to keep an eye out for just the right thing.

This is the kitchen once it had been cleaned and after I had officially "moved."
Here's something interesting I discovered during my time cleaning the place.  Someone had left an open garbage bag which contained an unfinished can of Coke.  At some point, the bag had tipped over and Coke spilled out onto the floor.  When I wiped it up, the floor beneath had a clean, high gloss.  I didn't think anything about it until I tried to clean the rest of the floor and found that it took significant effort and a multitude of chemicals to get it as clean and shiny as the area where the Coke was.  While I haven't tried it on anything since, I learned that Coke was the least labor intensive way to clean stick down vinyl tile.  Who knew? 

The removal of the multiple layers of wallpaper came first.  If I remember right, I found evidence of at least 7 layers.  I have a love/hate relationship with stripping wallpaper-the hate part being that removing the old layers also removes the chronology of wallpaper history as well as history of the house.  On the other hand, removing all the wallpaper is the only way to get a reasonably smooth surface, discover the true condition of the wall beneath, and get the best adherence for hanging new paper and removes the seam lines from previous paperings.

This shows the wallpapers and the matching border

This is a section of border from one of the other layers of paper found

For the record, I'm not much of a "yellow" person, but this room "said" it needed to be yellow.  I've never really cared much for yellow but when I found this lovely honeysuckle paper with its pinks and greens, it was a perfect fit for the room.  The background was a wheat colored yellow which would add the warmth and visual lightness to the room, the pattern was kind of old-fashioned although I don't remember it being a true reproduction, the colors coordinated well with the floor and countertops that I would be keeping for several years, and I thought it was a pretty pattern.  It was a good decision that met both my personal preferences as well as the needs for the room.  I was excited to get it on the wall!


Initially, I thought I might be brave and try out yellow painted cabinets just for something different.  If I remember right, it was an Olympic color called "Honey Pot" that I had mixed in an oil base.  The color was actually pretty nice but the cabinets weren't and with a whole house to work on both inside and out, new cabinets weren't coming anytime soon.  Time to come up with a plan B.  While I was thinking about it, I went to do some work in the parlor.  

Eventually I began to wonder.....what if.......

and dragged out the can of brown latex (don't remember the name) that I had been using on the exterior window sashes and a jar of faux finish additive that I'd never had a reason to use.  I figured I'd play a little and if it turned out horrible, hey, it was latex over oil and could be removed with a warm damp rag.

So, I set off to try my hand at my very first faux finishing adventure and try to make the cabinets look something like a wood grain.  Since I prefer woods of a finer grain, I just went at it with a throw away china bristle brush. 

Well, that was interesting, but I did like it better than the plain yellow as it helped draw the attention away from the imperfection of the cabinet doors.  It was however, missing depth and looked like a weird paint job.  Back to the basement I went to rummage through the paint cans for some stain.  I picked my favorite MinWax Red Mahogany.

After some playing around with it, I finally got the hang of how long it takes before it starts to tack up.  While it's still very wet, it blends itself back out and appears grainy like a bad copy of a picture.  If it sets too long, it becomes too defined and has a dragged, sticky appearance.  Somewhere in there was just the right time span to create pattern that is defined enough to be kind of convincing without being heavy-handed-if that makes any sense.

Some things I learned from the experiment:
Stain will come off immediately with mineral spirits or paint thinner.  This I already knew.  Applying a clear coat of poly on top of the stain that is merely lying on top of a non-porous surface will undo any of the previous work as it is compatible with the stain.  While I suspected this might happen, I gave it a try anyway.  Needless to say, I had to entirely remove the poly and the stain from the first door-all of which came right off with the mineral spirits.  

Back to the basement to root through the cans of products.  Hmmmm.....let's try the shellac!  Hey, that works great!  The shellac stabilized the stain so that the poly could be applied. 
As you can see, there is no resemblance to any kind of real wood.  Still, it turned out pretty cool.  Besides, most of the people I know can't tell the difference between oak and cherry, nor do they care.  Most of the time, it's the illusion that counts the most.
This was the stove cabinet which was where my experiment started.  The guy I was dating at the time came over a few days later and I showed him what I'd been working on.  He just kept standing there looking at it all puzzled like.  I told him what I had done to them and he didn't believe me until I finally had to open the door and show him that the backsides were still white.  I guess it didn't occur to him that hinges don't come in wood tones. :)  Once I worked out the process of the fauxing, I took the old hinges off as I went along and sprayed them with Rustoleum Hammered Pewter.

Now for the hard part-getting the frames on the upper cabinets that would be more noticeable to look like the individual pieces of wood that make up the frames.  Common sense said to tape them off and work them in sections-verticals first, horizontals last.  

Painted cabinet frame with vertical elements taped off

Next apply the first faux layer.  I kept these simple with very little movement to the pattern.

Apply the stain layer, shellac, and poly.

Once the poly was applied, it provided enough protection to be able to tape off the horizontal members without pulling off the underlying finished treatments.

I'm kind of an experimenter at heart so almost everything is a learning process.  Here are some other things I learned while finishing these cabinets:

  1. If you miss even the smallest area while applying the shellac over the stain, the entire piece needs to be restarted from the beginning.  Note the one yellow door and trim piece above-I missed a spot and the poly took the stain right off.
  2. Spray shellac doesn't give the appropriate coverage to seal the whole area and once applied, reapplying multiple coats results in something ugly.
  3. As things were tedious and weren't working out so well, I tried a new experiment and added a small bit of poly to the stain.  In theory, once the poly was dry there would be no incompatibility between the products and would cut out several steps.  Because the intensity of the stain was desired, I only added a little poly.  Too much varnish would water down the effect and make everything too light and would wash out the "grain" appearance.  Adding that little dropper of poly turned out to be the perfect solution.  It took a couple of days for dry time, but was worth it.  An added note is that the more poly you add, the faster the dry time.
Since the house was built in 1918 and the walls were plaster and lath, imagine my surprise to find that the kitchen had been finished in drywall-really old drywall. The old wallpaper fragments I posted above were applied to it, so drywall was around a lot longer than I ever imagined.  In fact, drywall was first invented in 1916, two years before the house was built.  It wasn't until the U.S. entered WWII that it came into more common use in this country.  I imagine for whatever reason, this room got a rehab somewhere between 1918 and 1940 and the plaster was replaced with the old version of drywall.  I had no idea it had been around that long!  The interesting thing was that initially, it was generally considered a cheap, low-quality product and people refused to use it which is why most homes were still finished in plaster. 

Something else that I've noticed in older homes with drywall is that once the joint compound was applied and the walls finished, it was standard to finish the entire surface with shellac or varnish making the surface waterproof and allowing wallpaper to adhere and be removed without taking the surface off the wall-something many people removing wallpaper from newer homes today encounter as it pretty much ruins the wall surface and is costly and/or time consuming to repair.  The amazing thing is that we think we're so smart with all our technology and short cuts, but the truth is that there was usually a reason for the old timer's methods for the things they did. 

As you can see, eventually, I got the many layers of wallpaper scraped from the walls and ceiling.  It took some patience, persistence, and a wallpaper steamer that the guy that replaced my HVAC system donated to the cause.  It took a couple of months to get it all off since I wasn't really excited about the work, but eventually, it was ready for the next step.

Fortunately, most of the walls were in great shape.  There were a couple of sections that looked like someone had applied flooring adhesive to the wall and those were nasty to deal with.  Once I got that mess off, I floated out the areas, primed, and hung liner paper over them.  A little feathering with joint compound at the seam created a new smooth wall surface.

The next step was to prime the ceiling and wall surfaces.  I did this with an oil-based primer, probably Kilz Original if I remember right.  You can see the area in the photo to the right of the window where liner paper was applied.  Liner paper is more porous than the shellac-sealed drywall, so the absorbs more product and is the darker area.  I primed this area twice so that the liner paper wouldn't absorb too much of the wallpaper adhesive and cause the wallpaper to fail.

Eventually, I finished all the cabinets and hung the new paper.  I found a cherry table and the chairs at a consignment shop that were perfect for the room I wanted to create.  This photo must have been in winter as I had curtains (left over from the previous house) up to block the cold transfer from the glass on cold nights.  All in all, it turned into a beautiful room-to me at least.  It was just what I had in mind.

The door on the right was to the dining room-still open to the front door at the time.

Let's recap.  Green on green on green accented in black and white:

The new room.  Total cost was probably between $800 and $1000 (prep supplies, wallpaper, ceiling fan, furniture.)  All of the previously installed elements remained including the painted tile around the cooktop which was stripped back off to expose the white tile underneath.
It was a room I could live with.


  1. Hi Christie,

    OMG the faux finish on the kitchen cabinets - it's absolutely stunning. Looks like a kitchen out of a magazine. Wow-you are good. Please come decorate my house. I'll wait. I haven't heard from you guys for a while. What's up? Miss ya.

    Mrs. D

  2. Your kitchen is BEAUTIFUL! The faux finish is great and and very Victorian. The table and chairs finish it off perfectly. Such a lovely, warm and inviting space.